We've done a lot of research, and created a buying guide to help you out. We had it checked by a whiskey and alcohol expert, too. Then we picked out some great products to get you started. Our favorite item was the Japanese style jigger from A Bar Above, because it's sleek, has many measurement markings, and is something every home mixologist needs. Keep reading to find out what else you should consider when setting up or adding to your home bar.
Whiskey Richard is the founder of nomunication.jp, an English-language drinks blog specializing in Japanese whisky, spirits, and Tokyo's cocktail culture. He has lived in Tokyo since 2008. He is a certified Cocktail Professor, SSI Shochu Kikisakeshi, and he provides consulting services for foreign spirits brands seeking to enter the Japanese market. Since 2021 he has served on the Executive Committee and as a judge for the Tokyo Whisky & Spirits Competition.
mybest US' editing team consists of experienced members who have backgrounds in writing, editing, translation, and more. We are dedicated to researching what makes a product or service the best to users in the US in order to create top-quality articles. From skincare, to kitchen appliances, and to DIY supplies, our mission is to find the best ones for you.
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Table of Contents
When asked, mixologists would recommend at least one or all of the following bar essentials, for commercial or residential use. Let’s take a look at these fundamentals and what you should know about each one regarding skill, durability, versatility, and more.
Having a shaker ensures your drinks are mixed well in ice with minimal dilution. There are three main types of shakers: cobbler shakers, Boston shakers, and French shakers.
The cobbler shaker is a three-piece shaker set that is often used by beginners. It consists of a main cup, a built-in strainer, and a cap. The cap can also double as a jigger. These are fairly foolproof to use, but a bit less simple to clean. If you regularly use fruit pulp or herbs, you'll find yourself taking it apart and rinsing the strainer frequently.
A Boston shaker is composed of two cups that have been designed to seal tight when stuck together. They don't have a built-in strainer and are used with a Hawthorne strainer. Usually, one cup is stainless steel and the other a pint glass, but a "tin-on-tin" type, with both cups being metal, is also available.
Boston shakers can take some getting used to, especially in preventing leaks and separating the cups after shaking. These hold more liquid than cobbler shakers, though, and are stackable, making them a common choice for professional bartenders.
A Parisian shaker or French shaker is somewhat of a combination of the other two. It looks like a cobbler shaker minus the strainer. These shakers chill fast, since both pieces are metal, have a pleasant mixing sound, and look fancy.
A nice shaker set will last a very long time and become a heavily used tool in your home bar. As your technique improves over time, you may find your needs from a shaker change, and that's completely fine. Use whatever you're most comfortable with first, and consider aesthetics second.
A regular spoon will not work very well when it comes to mixing liquor. Bar spoons are long, slender, and have a narrow handle that won't get stuck on ice cubes so easily. They can mix your drinks thoroughly if you don’t need them shaken up.
Bar spoons can also layer your drinks by letting one liquid slide down the spoon. The spiral handle can prevent soda from fizzing too much as its poured down it.
An American style one has a simple end like a regular spoon, and its usage is limited to measuring and stirring. European spoons have a flat end that can be used for muddling. Japanese bar spoons have a weighted end that makes them easy to stir with for beginners. Some might even have a fork on one end for grabbing garnishes.
Bar spoons are essential for glasses like highball or Collins glasses as they're long enough to mix the entire drink. Additionally, the twists in the spoon allow for less splashing and a much smoother stirring motion when compared to a standard spoon.
As your technique improves, you can also use your bar spoon for techniques like layering, floating, and swizzling.
A mixing glass looks like a regular glass but with a spout for easy pouring. You use these alongside bar spoons to prepare drinks that require stirring. This way you won't scratch your delicate serving glasses as you stir vigorously. Look for a mixing glass that’s weighted at the bottom, so it stays in place while you work.
For consistency in taste, save the shot glasses for shots, and use a jigger to measure. A jigger is the equivalent of a measuring cup for alcohol. They’re often double-sided and hold a different amount on each end, such as a one- and two-ounce jigger, the quantity most often used for mixed drinks. They may have markings for fractions of ounces, and many come in milliliters, too.
Also commonly sold in bar tool sets are pourers. They can make it easier and neater to pour drip-free. You might want one for each bottle you use frequently, so you don't have to constantly wash and change them.
Unless you're trained as a bartender, it's extremely difficult to make accurate free-hand pours. While it's possible to use something like a measuring cup instead of a jigger, a jigger won't take up much space and provides a far more authentic feel. If there's only one bar tool you purchase, make it a jigger.
A Hawthorne strainer, which can be placed on top of a shaker or mixing glass, is commonly used with a Boston shaker. It fits right into the glass. It won't filter out very fine particles such as ground spices or get all the fruit pulp, but it works fine for crushed whole herbs or ice.
If you want to have absolutely smooth drinks, you should look for a fine-mesh strainer. These are often in a small, conical shape, and will filter out even the tiniest particles but aren't suitable for straining out ice cubes.
A muddler is a stick with a blunt or toothed end, or sometimes even double-ended. Its purpose is to crush fruits and bruise herbs to extract their natural juices and flavors into your drink. They come in bamboo, wood, plastic, and metal. Look for one that's long enough to handle comfortably with the vessel you'll be crushing ingredients in.
A handheld citrus press could be helpful if you’re dealing with a lot of lemons and limes. These are usually plastic or metal and allow you to juice half a small citrus fruit. They'll make quick work of it, and also filter out the seeds.
Ice is the most often disregarded ingredient in a drink but could make or break any beverage. The problem with regular ice cubes is that you may end up with a watered-down drink. To prevent this, try specially-designed ice cube trays that yield slow-melting ice and prevent dilution for drinks like whiskey, bourbon or scotch.
Whiskey stones, typically made with natural soapstone, totally prevent over-dilution. They’re reusable and fun, but they won't keep your drink super cold for very long, and they won't chill a drink that's already at room temperature. Other similar options are reusable ice cubes made of steel or plastic.
You can also look for ice makers or ice cube molds that can freeze them into different shapes and sizes to fit your glass and give it an aesthetic finish. And of course, if you love frozen drinks, invest in a blender to ensure a supply of soft, smooth, crushed ice!
Getting your ice as clear as possible isn't just a question of aesthetics! Clear ice also melts more slowly than cloudy ice because the cloudiness comes from air bubbles trapped inside. Using clear ice helps ensure that your drinks won't get watered down too quickly.
Also, cloudy ice can sometimes have a "freezer burn" taste to it, meaning it can even impact flavor before it fully melts.
Whether you prefer margaritas, wine, whiskey, or Japanese sake, you'll enjoy your beverage more in the right glass. For those who like hosting parties, a rule of thumb would be to have a set of each of the following multipurpose glasses as a start.
The coupe glass is perfect for Manhattans, martinis, and champagne. It also works for frozen drinks like daiquiris and margaritas. A tall, sleek and slender Collins or highball glass is another must-have, for your sparkling cocktails with seltzer or soda.
Rocks glasses, or old-fashioned glasses, are for drinks served on ice, or neat (at room temperature.) And of course, you have beer mugs and wine glasses. There are different types of each, suited for different kinds of beer and wine, so how big you want your collection to get is dependent on what you drink the most.
Presentation can be as important as flavor. Get some cocktail picks to keep olives or fruit pieces in place on top of your glass, or try a tool such as a cocktail rimmer to easily get the sugar or salt on your glass rim. Or perhaps you'll want a citrus stripper for fancy ways to decorate a drink with citrus peels.
Want to really impress your guests? A cocktail smoker allows you to make smoke-infused drinks, which not only adds unique flavors, but just looks really amazing, too!
The last thing you want to do after a nice, relaxing drink or a party that ends late is spend a lot of time cleaning up. Many bar tools are dishwasher-safe, especially if they're made of stainless steel. Stemware and delicate crystal are best washed by hand, as are wood and bamboo muddlers. Some metals like copper need special care, so check the manufacturer's instructions.
You might want to avoid sets with cheaply-constructed plastic items, especially if you'll use the tools often; but for infrequent use or outdoor events, where you run a risk of losing them, such semi-disposable options might work just fine.
There's now a huge range of options for building a home bar, so you'll want to consider factors like your budget, available space, how often, and how many guests you expect. Something like a kegerator might seem like a great idea at first, but if you only drink beer occasionally or generally stick to spirits and cocktails, it's unlikely you'll ever recuperate the cost.
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A Bar Above
Japanese Style Jigger
Best Jigger for Making Balanced Cocktails
Italian Highball Glasses
Best Starter Set With a Variety of Glasses
Beverage Chilling Stones
Best for Crystal Clear, Slow-Melting Ice From Tap Water
A Bar Above
Two-Piece Boston Shaker Set
Best Boston Shaker Set for More Experienced Users
Crystal Cocktail Mixing Glass
Best Glass Pitcher for Mixing Stirred Drinks
Crate & Barrel
12 Inches Stainless Steel Mixing Spoon
Best for Stirring Drinks and Muddling Herbs, Sugar and Fruit
Steel Cocktail Strainer
Best Compact, Ergonomic Hawthorne Strainer
Smash Natural Wood Muddler
Best to Garnish Your Drinks in Short and Tall Glasses
Elite 23-Piece Bartender Kit Cocktail Shaker Set
Best for Getting Fresh-Squeezed Juice Fast and Easy
Gramercy Kitchen Company
17" Wood Globe Wine Bar Stand
Best for Making Impressive Smoked Cocktails and Appetizers
This Japanese style jigger from A Bar Above has measurement markings to make any drink you can possibly find a recipe for, all the way from a bar spoonful to two ounces. It comes in silver, gold or copper finishes, all of which are dishwasher-safe. If you're not a fan of Japanese-style jiggers, it also is offered in a bell shape.
Reviewers say it works as intended, although some point out that in a dim room the markings are hard to see in the tall shape. But they love how many markings it has, saying it makes it quick to mix a variety of drink recipes.
This set from Godinger will allow you to quickly cover a variety of cocktails that work best in certain glasses. Instead of buying each type separately, you'll get two each of coupe, highball, collins, and goblet glasses. They're made of lead-free crystal with a cut-glass-like design.
Reviewers say they have a hefty weight and good, solid feel. One points out you can see a mold seam, but they say they have the look of expensive cut crystal but with the sturdiness those lack. They love how these are built for daily use, saying they draw compliments and are very practical.
Making clear ice is tricky in most home freezers, but this system promises to do so using your regular tap water. Simply fill and freeze, but here's the key; the cubes need to be taken out 18 to 22 hours later. Any longer and you won't get the results.
That narrow window was one of the complaints from reviewers. However, the vast majority found it does what it says, yielding ice with no cloudiness that melts slower and tastes better. They say it's worth the freezer real estate, and many people make cubes ahead of time and keep them in baggies for later use.
This Boston shaker can shake drinks in big quantities. The small cup is 18 ounces while the large holds 28. It's easy to create a watertight seal, and it's equally effortless to separate the cups, thanks to the weight in the larger one providing rigidity as well as balance when shaking.
A few reviewers said it takes a bit of practice to use, and it's a bit loud when used. However, many loved that this was one of the few shakers that could hold up to three cocktails! Even professional bartenders liked the weight, quality, and durability of the product.
This mixing glass is made with lead-free crystal and has a weighted bottom, so it will stay put without you needing to hold onto it while you stir. It's available in 18 or 24 ounces, and they also sell sets with mixing spoons if you don't have one already.
A few reviewers were disappointed that it cracked during use or in the dishwasher. It's better being washed by hand. However, they loved the weighted bottom, said it fits the hand nicely, and has a good feel to it. They also say a standard Hawthorne strainer fits it perfectly.
Save some time with this double-ended spoon that has a muddler built onto its end. This European-style bar spoon is long enough for making individual drinks. Pouring down the spiraled handle will also allow you to create layered drinks and prevent carbonated beverages from foaming over!
Reviewers love this spoon, saying it muddles well, is easy to manipulate, and feels good in the hand. You might want a longer one for making drinks in a larger vessel, but for mixing and muddling right in a glass, they find this one ideal.
This Hawthorne strainer will fit over most Boston shakers, mixing pitchers, and drinking glasses. It has a raised lip which acts as a spout to funnel ingredients toward the springs and catch them, while preventing drips. The compact shape and soft finger grip round out the design.
According to a few reviews, the spring is too loosely separated to filter thin ice chips. However, they say it doesn't get clogged easily, fits well onto basic shakers and glasses and doesn't require awkward positioning of the hand.
These cocktail picks will keep your garnishes where you want them, whether it's a cherry and orange slice on the rim of your Manhattan or whole strawberries sitting atop a frozen daiquiri. Two lengths make the set useful for any type of drink served in any height glass.
Reviewers say they're very shiny and look nice in a Bloody Mary or martini. They find that they sit well-balanced in a glass, and that the lengths work perfectly.
A traditional wooden reamer may be a classic bar tool, but this is a less messy and more efficient way to get lime and lemon juice. It has two different size bowls for getting all the liquid out of either fruit, leaving the seeds behind, and it comes in various colors to match your bar.
Reviewers report that it really does get all the juice out easily and cleanly. Some report broken handles and a chipping finish, but the vast majority say it's made the job of juicing citrus much less of a hassle. Some claim they're surprised they ever lived without it!
Add some smoky aroma and flavor to your cocktails, scotch, or appetizers with this portable gadget from GKC. All you need is four AA batteries, a lighter, and a dome (a big bowl will work) to cover the drink or food to be smoked. After the wood chips burn, leave the dome in place for a few minutes, then lift and serve.
The main complaints came from a few reviewers whose units stopped turning on. Most said it was one of the best items they've ever splurged on! They use it for bourbon and rye, Old Fashioneds, and for the meats, cheeses, fruits and veggies on their charcuterie boards. They say it's simple and really adds a lot of smoky flavor fast.
In addition to reviewing and commenting on our buying guide, Whiskey Richard also took the time to answer a commonly asked question about home bars.
"Consider the workflow involved in making some of your favorite drinks," Whiskey Richard says. "Where will your glasses, ice, and garnishes be located? Will you need to wash empty glasses as your guests finish them? Where is your refrigerator, and where is your freezer?
After you have a basic idea of how you want to set things up, practice making some drinks before guests come over so you don't keep them waiting too long for their drinks."
Here are some other articles with lots of ideas and advice about what to get for your home bar. Check them out while you sip your drink!
This expert reviewed the contents of the buying guide for accuracy and provided factual corrections when necessary, as well as extra tips and advice. They did not participate in the product selection process, nor are they affiliated with any of our choices unless explicitly stated so.
No. 1: A Bar Above｜Japanese Style Jigger
No. 2: Godinger｜Italian Highball Glasses
No. 3: True Cubes｜Beverage Chilling Stones
No. 4: A Bar Above｜Two-Piece Boston Shaker Set
No. 5: Mofado｜Crystal Cocktail Mixing Glass
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